I've always struggled with authority. It's not so much that I don't like being told what to do, I'm perfectly fine with taking orders and following directions. I think it might have something to do with my desire to control certain situations. And I'll admit, I have a bit of a stubborn streak. I'm pretty easy going and not overly opinionated most of the time, but when I do have an opinion, it's tough to convince me otherwise. If there isn't a logical reason for doing something a certain way, I don't like being forced to do it.
For instance, when I was the dishwasher and kitchen assistant at a cafeteria in high school, I was told I couldn't wear jeans, I had to wear dressier pants. I balked at the idea of it. First of all, I was tucked away in the kitchen where I was rarely seen by the public. Second of all, it wasn't like my jeans were ragged or indecent. They didn't have holes, weren't sagging below my butt and weren't so tight they left nothing to the imagination. Lastly, I was a dishwasher. I was working with dirty dishes, and sloppy water. I was going to get dirty and wet. Why would I want to wear nice pants that would probably get stained and ruined? I defied the dress code on multiple occasions. And every single time I was reprimanded.
In Pam's kitchen, my bullheadedness was going to be a problem. She was new to the kitchen and she wanted everyone to know she was there and she was calling the shots. She was making this cafe her own and every aspect of it would be controlled by her.
On busy nights, she would stand at the head of the line and bark commands. Every time an order came in, she would call out the dishes. She would yell for the status of things, holler when something was running out, send fries back when they were overdone or under-fried, reprimand the cooks when something looked sloppy. I wasn't working the line and it stressed me out. I could only imagine how the cooks felt. But I had to give her some credit. Being the female head chef in a kitchen of men was no easy task. She had to assert herself, or risk not being taken seriously. If she ruled with fear, no one would question her authority. Except maybe me.
After my unsuccessful attempt to become a French pastry assistant, I had settled into my role as the dessert baker at the Farmhouse. I still wasn't completely sold on the idea, but I couldn't deny that I was comfortable there. I loved my coworkers and I really enjoyed being in that kitchen, even as dysfunctional as it was. It was a place I could go to recharge after a day at the office. Some girls went for spa treatments and pedicures. Me, I baked. The idea that Pam might change all that made me bristle.
Her first order of business was to get some new things on the dessert menu. The carrot cake wasn't selling as well as it used to, so she had me start making key lime pies. Then she moved on to the cheesecake. Here I immediately took personal insult. I had been making the cheesecakes for a couple months now without any complaints. In fact, quite a few compliments were passed back to me from the servers and there never seemed to be a problem selling it. But Pam wanted to experiment with recipes and find the cheesecake she liked best.
First she complained that my crusts were too thick and the servers couldn't get it out of the pan. I wanted to suggest that maybe the servers shouldn't be responsible for plating desserts, and that maybe we should get some new nonstick springforms (to replace the rusted misshapen ones I had been using), but I held my tongue and decreased the crust recipe. Then she gave me some completely new recipes to try. Begrudgingly, I tested one out that had a weird pastry-like crust, and wasn't baked in a water bath. It came out cracked, heavy and misshapen. She moved on to Martha Stewart. Now, I have no problems with Ms. Stewart. She's made a name for herself in the culinary and homemaker world and she definitely has some good ideas. But I was damned if I thought her cheesecake was better than mine. I faked the recipe and made my own instead. When I came into the cafe for my next shift, Pam was full of compliments.
"That cheesecake recipe has always been a favorite of mine," she gloated.
I chuckled inwardly with the knowledge that it had been my recipe that made her gush. Satisfied with this victory, I accepted her authority and dutifully followed her orders for everything else.
My next challenge was hot fudge sauce.
"It's so easy and the taste is to die for," Pam explained to me. "You just add all of the ingredients except the butter and you don't even have to stir it. Then after 18 minutes, when it gets to softball stage, you remove it from the heat and add the butter and you're done!"
She explained that when it was at softball stage, if you took a glob of it and dropped it into a glass of water, it would form a ball before it hit the bottom of the glass. Sounded easy enough. I saved the recipe for the end of the night, thinking it would only take me 20 minutes to complete and I'd be out of there and headed home early.
My first concern came when I realized there was milk in the recipe and she had told me not to stir it. Wouldn't it scald the milk if it was just left to boil without stirring? I decided to trust her and give it a shot. Since the recipe was multiplied by 10, it took the full 18 minutes just to bring it to a boil. Then once it was finally boiling it became quickly apparent that it needed to be stirred. It was thickening on the edges and not incorporating into the middle.
After over 45 minutes of stirring, and not noticing a change to the consistency, a frightening thought occurred to me. If the recipe was multiplied by 10, did that mean the cooking time should be multiplied by 10 too? If that was the case, it would take 180 minutes to finish. Three hours! Horrified, I racked my brain for ideas and decided to move a smaller portion of the sauce to a smaller pot. Even with this method, every time I attempted to put a dollop of the sauce in a glass of water, it dispersed, looking like watery chocolate milk, and in no way formed a ball. I decided it was impossible. So I worked through several smaller batches, thickening it to the best of my ability and called it a night. From start to finish, I had spent over an hour and a half working on the sauce. With much guilt, I delivered the pan to the dishwasher with half an inch of scalded chocolate sauce caked to it.
"Just let it soak for ages Manuel. I'm so sorry," I hung my head and slunk away.
When I came in for my next shift, to no surprise, Pam informed me that the sauce hadn't been quite thick enough and that it definitely needed to be stirred the next time I made it to get it to a better consistency. A ball of frustration formed in my throat, but I swallowed, nodded and told her I looked forward to trying it again.
As the weeks went on, Pam became less and less involved in the details of my dessert baking. Most nights she was gone by the time I got to the kitchen and she stopped leaving things for me to do. At first it was a little terrifying, not having any direct orders. I didn't want to let her down and make too much of something or not enough of another. Then it hit me. She must have seen that I was perfectly capable and had faith that I could work things out. I had proven that there was no need for her to exert her control over me. And so, with a newly discovered confidence I seized the challenge of becoming the owner of the dessert menu at the Farmhouse, answering to no one's authority but my own.